Hope: Living & Loving With HIV In Jamaica

In 2007, poet and writer Kwame Dawes made five trips to Jamacia to learn about the impact of HIV and AIDS there. He talked to both people with HIV and people in the medical community fighting the disease. Based on the stories he collected, Dawes wrote 22 poems, which he calls “anthems of hope and alarms of warning.” Hope: Living & Loving With HIV In Jamaica is a multimedia story that combines those poems with video, audio, images, and music.

How It Works

The 22 poems are the focus of Hope: Living & Loving. They are presented both as text and as audio. Dawes himself recites the poems. For nine of the poems, there is also an audio recording of a musical version with the words as lyrics. For four “featured” poems, there is a slideshow version, where each line of poetry is paired with a photo. The slideshow plays in step with Dawes’ recital of the poem and the text appears, line by line, like photo captions. So when the user hears the line “the bodies broken, placid as saints, hobble along the tiled corridors, from room to room,” they see a photo of a man, bent over, walking down the hallway of a hospice.

Most of the poems are linked to profiles of the interview subjects who inspired it. These profiles include one to four short interview clips that deal with particular topics, such as “on accepting those with HIV” and “on sex, sin, and death.”

There are also two longer “infocus” videos that discuss the stigma surrounding HIV in Jamaica and what it is like to live with the disease. These look at the bigger issues involved, providing some context for the poems and the people interviewed

Finally, there is an image gallery of related photos. These photos also appear in the background when other content appears on the screen.

What Works, What Doesn’t

Without judging the quality of the poems themselves, something I am certainly unqualified to do, I can say that the poetry really benefits from the multimedia treatment. It’s an oral form as much as it is a written one. When it is read out loud (by the poet himself no less), the rhythm of the lines come through.

This use of audio doesn’t particularly need a visual accompaniment, but when there is one for the four featured poems, it is generally well done. The images are subtle and don’t compete with the words for the user’s attention. It’s always important for the supporting media form not to compete with the lead form.

The supporting videos that give context to the poetry are all well used. The infocus videos use a variety of footage to talk about two particularly important subjects. The briefer interview clips give the user a personal connection to the various subjects. When someone talks on camera about how the felt when they first found out they were HIV positive, it can’t help but be emotional. And by linking the poems directly to the particular subjects who inspired them, the two forms are connected.

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